Amid admittedly far-fetched rumors that he is mulling a mayoral run in 2016, former governor and Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder penned a blistering, blustering guest column in Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. Wilder took aim at Mayor Dwight C. Jones, whose final year in office is off to a bit of a rough start. That didn’t stop Wilder from dropping the gloves and sounding off on the state of the city.
Here are our five takeaways:
1. You were happier with Doug Wilder. Wilder writes that the city under his watch was more optimistic about its future. He references recently released city survey statistics to support the claim, which say that only 34 percent of Richmonders feel the city is moving in the right direction, drastically lower than when he left office. He buttressed this by pointing out that many of Jones’ signature accomplishments were, in fact, initiated during his term (crime reduction, Broad Street revitalization, new city jail, riverfront improvements). He was able to balance the flashy accomplishments with the administrative responsibilities, such as turning financial reports in on time (cough, 2014 comprehensive financial audit report, cough). It adds up to Wilder taking credit for all the good that has happened in the city, while blaming Jones for all the bad.
2. Doug Wilder is sorry, sort of. The School Board eviction fiasco is the first thing people point to when criticizing Wilder’s term as mayor. In an attempt to make amends, Wilder admits those critics “may have been right.” It’s not quite sorry, but it just may be his first public admission that he mishandled the ordeal.
3. Doug Wilder wants his money. Wilder reasserts his claim to the $13 million set aside by the state for Richmond to commemorate its history. Jones has said the money is for the Lumpkin’s Jail site, a project that he has said is very personal to him. Wilder has said Gov. Bob McDonnell made it clear to him that money was intended for his effort to build a national slavery museum, and he isn’t backing off of that claim.
4. Doug Wilder had a plan for fixing schools. It’s no secret that improving public education will be a key theme of the upcoming campaign season. Specifically, funding a long-term plan to overhaul Richmond Public Schools facilities is likely to be a top priority for the city’s next mayor and city council. Wilder points out that his administration had a plan to do just that – the City of the Future plan – which would have “built 15 schools without raising a dime in new taxes,” Wilder writes. The problem? Jones discarded it. Rehashing his original plan is Wilder’s way of mocking Jones’ referendum proposal, which has already received a less than favorable response. It also reinforces the idea that Wilder accurately diagnosed the RPS facility problem well in advance of the current crisis.
5. Did anyone else catch that apparent Jeff Bourne dig? While criticizing Jones’ proposed referendum, Wilder seems to single out School Board Chairman Jeffrey Bourne, who used to work for Jones. Bourne told Style Weekly that he was open to discussing the referendum. Wilder wrote: “And yet the feckless response from the former Richmond School Board chairman, a Jones acolyte, shows why the people of our city, state and nation are showing continued lack of faith and confidence in government at all levels.” Bourne first served as chairman in 2013, but was chosen for the post again in January. He has also expressed interest in the mayoralty. If Bourne was the intended target, that would be the second public shot Wilder has taken at a potential mayoral candidate (See: Levar Stoney).
In response to the Wilder editorial, Mayor Jones said:
“One of the great things about America is that everyone is entitled to express their opinion.”